Reconsidering Wonder Woman (#SFWApro)

As might be expected with a super-hero whose career dates back 70-plus years, Wonder Woman has had her good eras and her bad ones. A couple of comic-book TPB collections have convinced me to re-evaluate a couple of those eras.
SHOWCASE PRESENTS WONDER WOMAN Vol. 1 starts in the late 1950s, when longtime WW artist Harry G. Peter left and Ross Andru and Mike Esposito (who would work as a penciler/inker team for years to come) took over, joining Robert Kanigher, who’d taken up the writing reins after creator William Moulton Marston (AKA Charles Moulton)left.
I’d seen stories from this era in reprints and wasn’t impressed. They seemed much less feminist than Marston’s work (tangled and weird as Marston’s view of gender relations might be) and included annoying expansions of the mythos such as Wonder Tot, Wonder Woman’s super-powered toddler self (the equivalent of super-baby—in this period, WW’s powers were all a divine gift rather than the result of Amazon training).
Rereading the first volume (Andru/Esposito cover art, rights with current holder), I’ve got to admit there’s more to them than that. For starters, there’s Wonder Woman herself. Like most books of the day, she didn’t interact with the rest of the DC Universe, so she’s effectively the most powerful hero in the world. Which is sort of a feminist statement in itself. Time and again, alien invaders would decide that if they can only overcome Wonder Woman, Earth is theirs! Needless to say, that rarely worked out for them.
Kanigher also does a very good job making her fighting style distinctive. Rather than outright super-muscle, she relies a lot on her equipment—the magic lasso, her tiara (which doubles as a boomerang) her bracelets and her invisible jet.
The stories are definitely not art, but I do enjoy them. Where Marston gave Diana a good-size rogue’s gallery (Dr. Poison, Hypnota, Dr. Psycho, the Duke of Deception and Mars the war-god), they rely heavily on alien invaders, giants (a lot of stories with giants) and the occasional one-shot super-criminal. Her only recurring foe was Angle Man, a slick schemer who “always had an angle” (a good foe he was, too). A lot of the stories emphasize Wonder Woman having to compete or accomplish some sort of test or a series of challenges to prove herself.
The supporting cast feels reduced. Steve Trevor’s around, but unlike the Marston era, he rarely does much beyond try to talk Diana into quitting and marrying him (that works about as well as the alien invaders’ plans). I can see why one fan described him to me as this series’ Lois Lane. Heck, one story consists of Steve trying to convince Wonder Woman that his life’s in danger so much, she just has to marry him so she can keep him in one piece (several commenters on the DC Women Kicking Ass blog have said how much they love the idea that Steve’s confident enough that he’s willing to date a woman who outdoes him in every way).
Near the end of this volume, Kanigher also reintroduces Etta Candy and the Holiday College girls, who played an important role in the early Marston adventures. And, of course, the Amazons are always showing up.
One big change he made was introducing Wonder Girl—Diana’s teen-age self—as a back-up series. Living on Paradise Island, she still winds up battling alien invaders and other menaces to protect her fellow Amazons. Instead of Steve, we have Ronno, a teenage Mer-Boy who often finds it as hard to distract Diana from her duties as Steve would later. It’s widely believed that when Bob Haney created the Teen Titans, he threw in Wonder Girl as a member under the impression she was a separate character, which is quite plausible (writers and editors often didn’t follow other books). In one of the last stories, young Diana almost meets herself in the future, and it wouldn’t be the last time.
I was going to write about Greg Rucka’s run on the title too (much better than I thought when it first came out) but I’ll save that for a later post).
And in case you’re wondering, I’ve already started the Kanigher era’s Vol. 2.


Filed under Comics, Reading, Wonder Woman

7 responses to “Reconsidering Wonder Woman (#SFWApro)

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